NEW YORK -- Near the end of a night their worst enemy would not have wished on them, the New York Knicks were reduced to a sad and pathetic sight. They had the likes of Roger Mason firing away from the outside and Jared Jeffries making power moves on the inside while the Boston Celtics giggled on their Seventh Avenue bench.
This unmitigated Game 3 disaster Friday night wasn't about only the loss of Chauncey Billups to a bum knee or the diminished state of Amare Stoudemire and a comic-book body that betrayed him at the worst possible time.
This was about a team failing to honor the patience and faith of a long-abused fan base that had waited 10 years to make the Garden sound the way it did before the opening tip -- like the only relevant gym in the world.
"We didn't come out, for whatever reason, with the necessary pop," Mike D'Antoni said after the Celtics won by a 113-96 count. "We didn't have the necessary energy."
What a searing indictment of this coach and that team.
Nobody was asking the Knicks to beat the Celtics in this first-round series, especially after Billups went down in Game 1 and after Stoudemire hurt himself dunking before Game 2. But after giving away two in Boston, games defined by dubious D'Antoni choices in the closing minutes, the Knicks were expected to win once or twice in the Garden, or to spill a little blood trying.
Instead they allowed Paul Pierce and Ray Allen to score 70 points, and never made the kind of Game 3 contact with Rajon Rondo that the Indiana Pacers made with Derrick Rose, who was forced to take a beating before making another winning shot.
"He controlled the game," D'Antoni said of Rondo, who posted an Oscar Robertson line of 15 points, 20 assists and 11 rebounds, and didn't have a scratch to show for it.
The Celtics, not the Knicks, were the ones who played with the desperate physicality of a team down 2-0 in a series. "This was not entertainment coming in here today," Doc Rivers said. "This was a competition.
"This place can do that to you. You can come in here to put on a show, and then you get your tail kicked. I thought we came in here to compete and play team basketball, and I thought everyone did that."
The Knicks never held the lead. They played harder against the Celtics in March, and the fans let them know it. Their rage gave way to resignation in the third quarter, when Jeffries and Landry Fields stumbled and bumbled about, creating more than their fair share of embarrassing scenes.
The Knicks were being Rondo-d to death, making like propped-up dummies in an obstacle course while Boston's point guard zigged here and zagged there.
At the start of the fourth quarter, Knicks down 23, Allen was busy laughing out loud on the Boston bench. He must have gotten a quick look at D'Antoni's lineup.
Good luck winning a juco tournament with that squad.
Carmelo Anthony would score only 15 on 4-for-16 shooting, and Stoudemire was of no practical use to his team. Before the game, Stoudemire took the court with a heating pad strapped to his back, the first ominous sign of the night.
"It's still pretty sore," he had said in the locker room, and no, he wasn't kidding.
Stoudemire moved as if Big Baby Davis was sitting on his shoulders. In fact, for the first time this series, the big-talking Davis turned out to be something of a prophet.
The Knicks' $100 million center was not that hard to guard after all.
The Garden tried to will him through it, starting with a purposeful roar during introductions. The place was alive, really alive, for the first time since 2001, the last time the Knicks won a playoff game.
Spike Lee bounced into the building talking about Willis Reed's heroic Game 7 in 1970. "I was here for that game," Lee said, "a 13-year-old in the stands."
Stoudemire took the floor for warm-ups, tried bending over and winced like an old man picking up a quarter in the park. Somehow, Stoudemire won the opening tip (the injured Reed didn't even bother to jump against Wilt Chamberlain in that glorious Game 7), and the crowd immediately tried to do for this team what it did for the undermanned '97 team during Game 6 against Miami, after the league suspended half the Knicks' roster.
The '97 Knicks would ride the fan-generated emotion to the brink of near-victory. The 2011 Knicks?
They would ride that emotion into the ground.
"We just didn't have it," D'Antoni said.
Stoudemire opened with a pair of drives, one airball after another. Fields fumbled the ball and chased it like someone chases a butterfly with a net, and suddenly the Celtics had the first nine points on the board.
The Knicks never, ever caught up. Stoudemire played when he could and sat in an elevated chair near the bench when he couldn't.
"The last few days, every step hurt," he said. "Every step I took I felt in my back."
Stoudemire could barely sit still the past few days or put on his socks and shoes. He admitted after this Game 3 disaster that he lacked quickness and explosion, and that he was afraid to make contact on his drives to the basket.
He embraced the Willis Reed role, trying to help his team with his mere presence. Only Stoudemire didn't have Walt Frazier on his side. The Fraziers were dressed in green on this night, Pierce and Allen and Rondo tearing apart the home team the way Clyde tore apart Jerry West.
So the Knicks stand one Easter Sunday away from oblivion, and nobody believes there's even a remote chance they can do to this 3-0 deficit what the 2004 Red Sox did to theirs.
The Knicks don't have the requisite talent to beat the Celtics in four straight, but their fan base wasn't asking for that Friday night, after 10 long years of suffering.
The crowd was only asking the Knicks to show the requisite heart to beat Boston once, or to at least pass out trying. D'Antoni and his players should be embarrassed that this simple request was much too much to ask for.